Thursday, February 28, 2008

strong arm of the law

the seattle pi is in the middle of publishing a series of articles on "the strong arm of the law," detailing controversial cases and issues with the seattle police department. so far, there are articles on police use of force, obstruction cases and charges, and how blacks are disporportionately arrested on "contempt of cop"charges.

while the police department questions the methodology used in some of the reports, for anyone interested in issues with policing, the series is worth a look.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

i guess that's why they call it perverted justice

as you may have heard, a former texas prosecutor sent sexually suggestive emails to an nbc producer posing as a 13-year-old boy. when local law enforcement sent in a SWAT team, apparently at the behest of the network, the guy killed himself.

few will have sympathy for anyone sending dirty emails to kids (or, to be precise, those posing as kids). that said, i could find no evidence suggesting that the man had ever engaged in any violence against kids or adults. but for the network's intervention, he may never have acted on the impulses that drew him into dateline's spotlight.

via newsday:

A federal judge handed a legal victory Tuesday to a woman who claims "Dateline NBC: To Catch A Predator" led her brother _ a Texas prosecutor _ to kill himself after camera crews and police officers showed up at his home in a sex sting.

In a scathing ruling, U.S. District Judge Denny Chin permitted a $105 million lawsuit to go to trial, saying a jury might conclude the network "crossed the line from responsible journalism to irresponsible and reckless intrusion into law enforcement."

Louis William Conradt Jr., an assistant prosecutor in suburban Dallas, fatally shot himself after he was accused of engaging in a sexually explicit online chat with an adult posing as a 13-year-old boy, according to a lawsuit filed by his sister.

In his ruling, Chin said the network "placed itself squarely in the middle of a police operation, pushing the police to engage in tactics that were unnecessary and unwise, solely to generate more dramatic footage for a television show."

Chin wrote that a reasonable jury could find there was no legitimate law enforcement need for a heavily armed SWAT team to extract a 56-year-old prosecutor from his home when he was not accused of any violence and was not believed to have a gun.

He said a jury might conclude it was done solely to sensationalize and enhance the entertainment value of the arrest.

"A reasonable jury could find that by doing so, NBC created a substantial risk of suicide or other harm, and that it engaged in conduct so outrageous and extreme that no civilized society should tolerate it," Chin said.

Before issuing his ruling, Chin said he reviewed a copy of the Feb. 20, 2007, episode. In her lawsuit, Patricia Conradt claims a police officer at the scene of the shooting told a "Dateline" producer: "That'll make good TV."

Monday, February 25, 2008

crime and partisanship, 2008

brad sends word of topline results for a december 2007 crime poll. the research was conducted by third way, with the report authored by jim kessler, rachel laser, michael earls, and nikki yamashiro.

the upshot is that americans still see crime as a very serious issue, they are split about equally with regard to whether democrats or republicans would best respond to crime, and they favor (compulsory) rehabilitation programs. here's the full text:

Third Way Crime Poll -- Topline Highlights

These are the highlights of a 1,139 person survey conducted by Cooper & Secrest Associates, December 15–19, 2007 on voter attitudes toward crime.

Americans View Crime as a Resurgent Threat
Although, crime does not rival the economy or Iraq as a front burner issue, there are clear indications that the public is becoming more concerned about the issue.
• 57% rate crime as a “very serious” issue
• By a 56-11% margin, the public believes there is more crime rather than less crime in America than one year ago
• 78% say that children are more vulnerable to crime than ten years ago
• By a 69-19% margin, Americans feel that crime is more of a threat to their own safety than terrorism

Most Americans Are Non-Ideological Pragmatists on Crime
Our research identified three distinct groups of Americans on the crime issue. The most prominent was the 55% of Americans whom we call “Solve-the-Problem” voters. They are non-ideological pragmatists who are open to a very active government role in crime prevention and intervention if properly designed and framed to emphasize personal responsibility. These voters are evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and are dispersed evenly throughout the country. The remaining two groups are far more ideological. “Throw-the-Book” voters comprise a small minority of the population and oppose any efforts at changing criminal behavior beyond enforcement and prison. They are overwhelmingly conservative. “Read-a-Book” voters believe wholeheartedly in rehabilitation and are far more likely to be liberal than the general population. They rank crime lower as an issue and see crime as slightly less of a threat to themselves.

Democrats and Republicans are at Parity on the Crime Issue
When asked who would do a better job of “working to reduce crime,” 33% chose Democrats, 31% chose Republicans, and 36% volunteered “not sure” or “neither party.” Compared to the 1970s and 80s, when the country trusted only conservatives to combat crime, our polling indicates that there has been a significant shift in public opinion towards parity. However, Americans still have distinct preconceptions about both parties’ approaches to the issue. They see Democrats as too quick to blame crime on circumstances, like bad schools, broken families, and dysfunctional neighborhoods. They see Republicans as holding individuals responsible for their own actions, but straying too far towards punitive sentencing for crime.

Voters Favor Intervention Efforts to Reduce Crime
There is strong support for programs aimed at reducing crime, but those designed to make people improve and take responsibility scored the best. For example, when prison rehabilitation programs were defined as a requirement of, not a benefit for, prisoners—support soared. Specifically, a policy forcing prisoners “to work, get an education, and learn skills because they need to be productive when they get out” scored 36-points higher (with 91% approval) than one providing prisoners who have “difficult family, economic or mental health circumstances” with the “proper counseling and training they need to be rehabilitated.”

Sunday, February 24, 2008

creative justice

this story caught my eye this week -- it is an interesting example of creative -- and possibly restorative--justice. the new york times sets up the story as follows: "What punishment should be imposed on a man who shot a police officer almost 40 years ago and fled to Canada, but went on to live an upstanding life as a husband and father who worked in a library?"

the answer, in this case, is an unusual plea bargain in which the offender, joseph pannell, will serve 30 days in jail, spend 2 years on probation, and give $250,000 to a foundation that helps the families of injured chicago police officers. the broker of the deal was actually the victim, who suffered permanent damage to his arm, but said: “Something good had to come out of this...The easy way out would have been to have a trial, and cost this county hundreds of thousands of dollars, have him go to jail, and cost the prison system hundreds of thousands of dollars."

for his part, pannell, now 58, took responsibility for the shooting which took place when he was 19, saying: “We must seek to move away from adversarial confrontation and towards peaceful reconciliation and conflict resolution...Today is about acceptance of responsibility, atonement and redemption.”

no one went to prison, yet all parties seem satisfied with this resolution. too bad such creative justice negotiations are the exception rather than the rule.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

new bjs report on campus law enforcement

the bureau of justice statistics just released a new report on campus crime and law enforcement. what can be learned from these data? in comparison to the general population, college campuses have a relatively low rate of violent crime (about 62 per 100,000 population on campus, relative to about 466 per 100,000 in the general population). overall, rates of both violence and property crime declined on campus from 1994 to 2004. in both years, crime rates were significantly higher in private than in public schools, with the private campus violent crime rate actually rising over this period. i'm not sure how to account for this, but i'd imagine there is great heterogeneity within both the private and the public campus categories.

the report shows that NYU had the largest campus law enforcement agency, but that howard university reported the greatest number of sworn officers (those with full arrest powers granted by a state or local government).

top-10 campuses ranked by number of full-time law enforcement employees
345 New York University
235 University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
202 Temple University
200 Howard University
194 University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
190 University of Southern California
180 Michigan State University
170 University of Alabama - Birmingham
156 George Washington University
155 University of Florida

i'd like to see more than the top-10 before drawing any inferences, but east coast universities such as temple and penn appear to hire more sworn officers than universities in the west or midwest. i may end up digging a bit deeper into these data, as there is some talk of expanding campus law enforcement to address security concerns at the minnversity.

top-10 campuses ranked by number of sworn officers
166 Howard University
119 Temple University
100 University of Pennsylvania
97 University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
95 George Washington University
86 University of Florida
79 Georgia State University
78 Yale University
76 University of Maryland - College Park
76 Vanderbilt University

Monday, February 18, 2008

race, crime, and the scalabrine counterfactual

having just posted on an espn magazine article about perceptions of the n.b.a. as an urban league, i came across a similarly thought- provoking observation in the same issue. brian scalabrine of the celtics offers this li'l thought experiment on race and perceived criminality:

"I think the misperception of our league is definitely race-driven. Suppose that for a whole year, none of our players got into a fight, no one got arrested, no one got ticketed for speeding. Do you think the public would have a different opinion of the league? I bet not. But I do think public opinion would be completely different if 75% of the players in the NBA were white instead of black. And if our image problem is race-driven, we can't control that."

i'm not sure he's correct, but mr. scalabrine's argument is so well-stated that i might have to try it out on my delinquency class this semester. having read the quote, i just had to check out to see where the young man went to school and whether he might've taken a good sociology course or two. sure enough, his bio notes that mr. scalabrine "earned his degree in social science from USC."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

i didn't know barnacles was a thespian bar...

as a wise sociologist told me in graduate school, "the people won't tell ya a thing if yer sittin' way over there in the non-smoking section." these days, however, smoking is forbidden in public spaces throughout my home state of minnesota.

well, at least one clever smart alec is resisting the status politics of the smoking ban. mark benjamin noticed that the law carved out certain exceptions to the statewide prohibition:

"scientific study participants, native americans, tobacconists, truckers, farmers, actors and actresses and ... wait! What was that last one? That's right. When the smoking ban was debated, some theater-going, latte-drinking, Volvo-driving legislators got their undies all in a bundle that a few performers might not be allowed to smoke cigarettes on stage. Really. They worried that performers might have to suck on straws or pencils or -- you know -- "act" like they were smoking. Heavens! Whatever would become of The Theatre?"

spotting this loophole, mr. benjamin hatched a novel plan. he was so moved by the specter of heroic old regulars chased out of the state's vfw's and american legion halls that he suggested the following:

"if you're a bar owner and don a beret, declare your bar a stage, hand out scripts and direct your patrons -- ahem -- performers to fire up some heaters, then you've got a bona fide "theatrical production" going on...Our shameless legislators favored the artistic integrity of a few theater owners over the blue-collar work ethic of a few thousand small bar owners. But our bar owners don't have to take it any longer. If they want, they can put on their very own "Theater Nights," set up "Acting" and "No Acting" sections, notify patrons that there will be some smoking during the performance and defy the government to define Art. It's not the Freedom to Breathe Act; it's the Freedom to Act Act. If you're a small bar owner, hand out scripts and cigs and tell your patrons to break a leg.

mr. benjamin wasn't just posing a hypothetical. last weekend, he organized an impromptu production of the tobacco monologues at a friendly bar called barnacles, somewhere in greater minnesota. there's a video, of course, with a theatrically dressed mr. benjamin waxing poetic about the class politics of smoke-free bars.
though i've never smoked and i enjoy the fresh air in modern taverns, i've gotta confess that i'm rooting for this guy. of course, i'll be rooting from the non-acting section.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

opening for department of corrections research analyst

grant duwe of the minnesota department of corrections emailed today with news of an opening for a research analyst. the department is doing some innovative research these days, so the job would be intellectually rewarding as well as remunerative.

Research Analyst Specialist - Minnesota Department of Corrections (St. Paul, MN)

Open Period: February 11, 2008-March 14, 2008

Position: Full-time permanent

Salary Range: $18.72-$27.46 hourly

Job Duties: This position will be responsible for evaluating correctional programs and conducting research on sex offenders, offender re-entry, and restorative justice.

Minimum Qualifications Required:
* Graduate degree (Master's or Ph.D.) in the social sciences (Criminology, Criminal Justice, Sociology or similar) with advanced training and/or professional experience in quantitative and qualitative research methods and multivariate statistics.


* Demonstrated ability to write research reports for a variety of audiences, as evidenced by the preparation of legislative reports, program evaluation reports, or publications in peer-reviewed academic journals.

* Demonstrated ability to use SPSS, SQL or Access in combining multiple data sets into one final database to conduct bivariate and multivariate statistical analyses.

* Human relations and strong written/oral communications skills essential to work with department managers and staff, research and corrections professionals in the community and other state agency staff.

* Experience managing multiple research projects.

Preferred Qualifications:
* Experience in the criminal justice system and field of corrections.

* Knowledge of advanced multivariate statistical techniques (e.g. logistic regression, poisson regression, Cox proportional hazards models) commonly used in corrections research.

* Demonstrated ability to design surveys and use appropriate statistical techniques to analyze and interpret survey data.

To apply: go to and get your resume in Resume Builder. Save it and submit it into the database. Search for Job posting number: 08CORR000034. The job posting can also be found here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

second chance day on the hill -- wednesday 2/13

second chance day on the hill is bringing people to the minnesota state capitol to talk about reintegration of those with criminal records. the core principle of the organizers is that "punishment should have a beginning and an end," which might have been taken straight from beccaria (1767).

i'm not speaking, but i'll try to sneak off to catch the presentations from 11-12. if locals are interested, here's the agenda:

11:00am Dan Cain, President, RS Eden, Introduction and Purpose
11:05am Bob Johnson, Anoka County Attorney, collateral sanctions and recommendations/public safety
11:10am Les Green, Professor, St. Cloud State, Landscape of Barriers/collateral sanctions/Racial Disparity
11:15am John Poupart, Executive Director, American Indian Policy Center, Diminished opportunities/Racial Disparity
11:20am Sue Watlov-Phillips, Executive Director, Elim Transitional Housing, Inc, Impact on Homelessness
11:25am Charles Jensen, Board of Directors, Barbara Schneider Foundation, Mental Illness/Justice System
11:30am Guy Gambill, Community Organizer, Veteran’s experience
11:35am Andre Corbett, Employment Support Consultant, Goodwill/Easter Seals MN, Personal story/challenges
11:40am Kissy Mason, Community Worker, Council on Crime and Justice, Personal story/challenges/generational impact
11:45am Julianne Ortman, MN State Senator Importance of fresh start/expungement/certificate
11:50am Michael Paymar, MN State Representative, Legislative progress and future
11:55am Dan Cain, President, RS Eden, Closing remarks/challenges remaining
12:00pm – 1:00pm Individual meetings with Legislators

Monday, February 11, 2008

and I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper

sometimes department chairs just gaze in wide wonder at the issues awaiting them on any given morning. i arrived today, for example, to find that someone had broken into the li'l glass bookcase showcasing "new releases" by our faculty.

dang, i really like that case. it is positioned outside some molasses-slow elevators, so it draws great attention to the many fine books written by our faculty. the thieves only made off with about a third of the monographs in the case, so i couldn't resist trying to suss out why they selected some books and left others behind.

part of me worried that the miscreants were students upset with book costs, but i'm pretty sure it was just kids. unlike the university of chicago, the university of pennsylvania, or other urban campuses i've visited, the minnversity maintains a light security presence. i often encounter small groups of males in their mid-teens walking the halls on sundays, sometimes just before i discover smashed-in vending machines or other mischief. i'd long assumed that bitter faculty members had been smashing the candy machines, but now i'm starting to put two and two together.

at least the miscreants broke the lock, rather than smashing the more-costly-to-replace glass case itself. a few mysteries remain:

1. why did they bother breaking into a locked case to steal books when there was a free shelf just five feet away, loaded with books that had greater resale value? the poor saps could've taken a free copy of earl babbie's bestselling methods book, for example, which would have brought a far greater return on their efforts than the more esoteric titles in the case. i think that the locked case probably signaled market value, so we might have been better off leaving our titles on an unlocked shelf and locking up some old telephone directories and 1974 software manuals instead.

2. how did they decide which books to steal? i was outraged (outraged, i tell you!) that they literally reached right past my book but stole both of hartmann's titles. the nerve! didn't they read the jackets? c'mon, which of us is out there advocating for the rights of convicted felons? i was getting pretty worked up about this until my research assistant reassured me that, of course, the thieves must have already purchased several copies of locked out: felon disenfranchisement and american democracy. aside from their anti-uggen bias, they didn't seem to choose hardcover over paperback, or qualitative over quantitative, or brand new over slightly older, or attractive cover art over less-attractive cover art. why didn't they just grab 'em all? my working theory involves a fargo-like dispute among the co-conspirators, so i wouldn't be surprised to discover, say, a severed human foot beneath our industrial paper shredder.

3. the replacement costs will be high for the department, but what is the street value of a handful of sociology books? wouldn't they have been better off breaking into the candy machines again?

4. it looks like i've got a decision to make. should we adopt the time-tested but lame method of stapling book jackets to a department bulletin board? or, should we stick to our guns, buy some new books, and bring in a serious security force?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

la times homicide report

the los angeles times maintains a homicide report blog with the names, faces, and brief stories of each of the area's murder victims. the daily entries quickly orient readers to the super-concentration of homicide along age, race, class, and gender lines. the grim catalog is powerfully affecting, even for those familiar with the bivariate correlates of violent victimization. we might already know that young african american and latino men from poor neighborhoods are disproportionately victimized, but we might better appreciate the force of such patterns after reading the individual stories arrayed on page after page of cases.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

urban institute live audio webcast on children with incarcerated mothers

via the urban institute's justice policy center:

Broken Bonds: Understanding and Addressing the Needs of Children with Incarcerated Mothers
Thursday, February 14
9 am ET / 8 am CT / 7 am MT / 6 am PT
Program length: 1.5 hours

Register Now
As the population of incarcerated women grows, so does the number of children whose mothers are absent from their lives. Current estimates indicate that on any given day, more than 150,000 children have a mother in prison, yet far too little is known about these children and their needs and experiences. What are their home environments like before, during, and after incarceration? If they are in foster care, when did they enter the system, and what are their prospects for family stability? What are the barriers to healthy mother-child relationships? What emotional and behavioral challenges do these children face? What can charitable organizations, service providers, and policymakers do to address those challenges?

With these questions in mind, this panel seeks to cast a bright light on this often invisible population of children. The discussion will illustrate the scope of the problem; explore the challenges these children will likely encounter as they negotiate new living arrangements, family relationships, and financial circumstances; and highlight programs and policies that hold promise for better serving this vulnerable population.

Sandra Barnhill, executive director and CEO, Foreverfamily
Amy Dworsky, senior researcher, Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago
Thomasina Hiers, director of programs and services, Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services
Nancy La Vigne, senior research associate, Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute
Moderator: Laura Sullivan, correspondent, National Public Radio

Register for the Webcast Today!
The audio recording of the webcast will be available online at by February 19.
The webcast is free. To join the webcast, you need a computer with a high-speed Internet connection. The audio for the webcast is available over the Internet only (no telephone connections).

Families Left Behind: The Hidden Costs of Incarceration and Reentry (pdf)
Prisoners Once Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, and Communities
Audio recording - Racial Disparity in the Child Welfare System

Monday, February 4, 2008

nij hosting online prison rape discussion

via nij: the national institute of justice is hosting an online discussion forum this week on research bearing on the prison rape elimination act. even basic questions about the prevalence of prison sexual assault are fiercely contested, so i'd expect a lively discussion.

Sexual Victimization in Prisons: Moving Toward Elimination

February 7, 2008: 2pm–4pm ESTFree online event. Registration required.
One of every 22 men and women sentenced to imprisonment in the United States reported that they were assaulted sexually while incarcerated.

Sexual victimization in prisons is the issue, elimination is the goal. Join a group of experts to discuss the state of Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) research—what data is available and what’s yet to come. The experts will examine ways to move from better understanding to reliable prevention and eventual elimination.
View a detailed description of the event and register today.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

on resilience

here is another great story, this one from the new york times, about the efforts being made to rehabilitate michael vick's dogs. vick agreed to pay nearly a million dollars for the evaluation and lifetime care of the 47 pit bulls rescued from his property. the dogs bear the scars of abuse and very tough lives, but only one had to be euthanized for aggression against humans.

for the rest, there is hope of rehabilitation, resocialization and possibly adoption into well-trained and carefully screened families. those dogs deemed unfit for adoption will live the rest of their natural lives in sanctuaries, with efforts made to offer them comfort and happiness. one of their caretakers explained: “These dogs have been beaten and starved and tortured, and they have every reason not to trust us,” Mr. Garcia said as Georgia crawled onto his lap, melted into him for an afternoon nap and began to snore. “But deep down, they love us and still want to be with us. It is amazing how resilient they are.”

i can't help but be reminded that people are resilient, too. in my interactions with serious delinquents and incarcerated felons, it is all too clear that many of them suffered extreme abuse as children. they survived, were caged, and yet most still hold hope for a better future. i'm glad to see michael vick's dogs getting a second chance. i hope we can offer our fellow humans the same consideration.

status offenses

teaching about status offenses in my delinquency class this week, i showed students results of the self-report survey they took on the first day of class. whenever i give such a survey, students always want clarification about whether i'm asking about their current behavior or their behavior before they turned 18.

it always struck me as strange that we criminalize age-inappropriateness. at twelve, i remember thinking that age-graded laws were a complete sham. i understood why cigarettes, pornography, booze, and gambling might be bad for me, of course, but i couldn't get my head around the idea that they'd suddenly be rendered harmless once i turned 16 or 18 or 19 or 21.*

if you are looking for a 40-second illustration of the contradictions of age-grading, check out this old mojo nixon public service announcement. in the late eighties, mr. nixon appeared in a fine series of revolutionary feel-good p.s.a.s for mtv, directed by ted demme and mark pellington. they are far less profane than mr. nixon's recordings or his radio shows, so perhaps better suited for classroom use. the libertarian poli-sci major from ohio u now deejays for sirius radio, as the loon in the afternoon, with a saturday night political show titled lyin' ***ers.

* when i graduated high school, the drinking age was 19 in minnesota, 21 in illinois, but only 18 in wisconsin. this differential was a major topic of conversation during my freshman year in madison.